Spellcaster – R&R Games, 2-4 Players, 20 minutes. Spellcaster, at first glance, seems like a Magic The Gathering light. It’s mage versus mage, casting spells from four different schools of magic, trying to destroy each other. While there are those obvious similarities, there are plenty of differences. The biggest difference is that Spellcaster has no collectible money suck. Everything you need is in one small box, for less than $20. The second big difference is there aren’t a lot of different card text mechanics, and no stack resolution. Now, if you’re a MTG enthusiast, Specllcaster will probably be beneath you. And that’s O.K. I think it is designed mostly for board gamers who might want to occasionally get a bit of the MTG feel, without all the commitment.
The rules, as I describe them will be for a two player game. The three player (2 vs. 1) and four player (2 vs. 2) versions are basically the same mechanics with just a few minor changes to the effects of certain cards. There are 60 cards in the whole deck that all players draw from. Each player starts with a hand of 3 cards, 10 yellow life gems, and 2 sapphires. To win the game, you must either drain the opponent to zero life gems or gain a total of 15 sapphires. There are four different colors of cards – red, blue, yellow and green. Generally, red cards are good for draining the opponent’s life, blue cards give or remove sapphires, yellow cards heal life, and green cards effect the other stacks or let you draw more cards. On your turn, you draw a card and do two actions. An action can be drawing a card, playing a card, or activating a card that has been played and is on the top of one of the four color stacks. That’s basically it.
What I found with this game (and as you’ll see, Spectaculum) is that the designers did a great job at creating a tight game calling for strategy that is beyond the simplicity of the rules. I’ve played it about 10 times now, and each time there are multiple decisions about how to use my actions and which stack of cards to play cards on. While there is luck involved because you are drawing a random cards from the deck, the text on the cards work so well together that there are many choices that let you mitigate that luck factor. I have also seen that even though cards you draw may force you to switch strategies (draining yellow gems vs. gaining blue gems) mid game, Spellcaster seems designed to let you to do that without too much detriment (though maybe against more advanced players, this may cost you the game). Even if you have a horrible luck and keep drawing terrible cards, the game is over in 20 minutes or less, and you can quickly exact your revenge in a rematch.
Everyone with whom I’ve played Spellcaster has found it immediately accessible, but surprisingly deep for what it is. The games are fast and furious and easy to play anywhere, especially at a tavern – which is one of my favorite gaming locations. I’m glad I found this game, and will be playing it often. So should you.